Bavaria, Baden in Baden-Baden, Bacharach, Berlin & Beyond

Bavaria, Baden in Baden-Baden, Bacharach, Berlin & Beyond

Out of the cities and into nature. There are still the "must sees" like the Castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, an 8-hour Rhine cruise along the best UNESCO designated section of the river, etc., but being in the countryside offers us a welcome slower pace.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Bavaria

Rick Steves has an audio walking tour in Füssen, our home base in Bavaria, taking us along some of the back streets of this town which we never would have explored otherwise. It's a postcard town that looks like the setting for a fairy tale. Our Airbnb apartment there is big, airy, light, clean, and with wonderful hosts. But the real highlight of this part of the trip is a 22 mile bike ride around the lake, Forggensee.

It takes us about an hour to track down a bicycle rental place, but when we do, it is owned by a very welcoming fellow named Christian who immediately asks us about our president. He assures us that we should not be too concerned as all politicians are crazy, then he tells us to just follow the road along the lake and assures us that we won't get lost. Nevertheless, we have a ride filled with green pastures and greener forests, snowy mountains, and plenty of wrong turns. But it doesn't matter. Every few miles is a beer garden, some of which we stop at to sit in the sun, breathe in the fresh air, and watch the cows. The other bikers are happy to help us out with directions. One couple tells us, when they learn we are from California, about their visit to LA and bike riding over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mary's Bridge in Bavaria. Sorry we didn't get to walk over it, but once people get on to it, they don't want to move, thus making the wait very very long.

Mary's Bridge in Bavaria. Sorry we didn't get to walk over it, but once people get on to it, they don't want to move, thus making the wait very very long.

Füssen at dusk. A much quieter town after the big cites we have been visiting.

Füssen at dusk. A much quieter town after the big cites we have been visiting.

Baden (bath) in Baden-Baden

In Baden-Baden, it's time for some more slow-paced pleasure in their co-ed and nude public thermal baths. Baden-Baden has been host to bathers since Roman times, enjoying great popularity, more recently with the likes of Goethe, Twain, and Nietzsche. Our masseuse (actually, body scrubber) tells us that he pummeled David Hockney many times before learning who he was. 

The prescribed treatment is a regimented 4 hours long procedure, going from station to station, which includes whirlpool baths, steam rooms, dry heat rooms, even hotter dry rooms, shallow pools for floating lazily while staring at the ceiling, hot baths, a freezing cold plunge, and finally a dreamy room where we are wrapped in warm blankets by the attendant and fall into a sleep-like trance for 30 minutes before sitting down on lounge chairs in the solarium for a hot tea. It sounds odd, but this program, which the government of Germany recognizes as a legitimate health treatment and pays for patients who have an RX for stress relief, really seems quite therapeutic once we have gone through the process.

Afterwards, we both float down the street, everything looking crystal clear as if we just put on a new pair of rosy glasses.

For Bill, the experience challenges his ability to meditate. With nothing to do but stay present and experience the baths, it should be the perfect place to clear the mind. And it pretty much is. Not thinking. Not thinking. When thinking occurs, it comes in words, causing him to consider the nature of thought. Once we are born, maybe even in utero, we quickly realize that speech is an essential tool for comprehension. It is how we interpret, understand, and manipulate the world. Sometimes we even mistake words and experience as being the same thing. Silent awareness all but disappears as speech becomes the middleman between experiencing and interpreting sensory input. Okay. Stop thinking, monkey mind. No thinking, my monkey mind. Not thinking...

And so it goes until we are led into a dark and quiet room and drift into a land of dreams.

Annoyed that our way is blocked by police and barricades in front of a fancy hotel, we notice a group of people waiting on the river bank with cameras. We wait with them, chatting with some Europeans, until a band starts playing New Orleans jazz and finally, Obama comes strolling out, and, upon noticing us, waves. He was receiving an award and consoling Angela Merkel, who was presumably asking him WTF?

Annoyed that our way is blocked by police and barricades in front of a fancy hotel, we notice a group of people waiting on the river bank with cameras. We wait with them, chatting with some Europeans, until a band starts playing New Orleans jazz and finally, Obama comes strolling out, and, upon noticing us, waves. He was receiving an award and consoling Angela Merkel, who was presumably asking him WTF?

A walk through the Black Forest, which isn't particularly dark. The Vogensen Kapelle was built by a World War I soldier who made a pact with God to build a chapel in the forest by his hometown if he survived the war.

A walk through the Black Forest, which isn't particularly dark. The Vogensen Kapelle was built by a World War I soldier who made a pact with God to build a chapel in the forest by his hometown if he survived the war.

Walking out of the woods and heading for town.

Walking out of the woods and heading for town.

Floating down the Rhine, we spend the day passing picturesque castles and towns.

Floating down the Rhine, we spend the day passing picturesque castles and towns.

The lazy 8-hour trip up the Rhine takes us past too many castles and towns to keep track of. We pretty much have the whole boat to ourselves except for 1-1/2 noisy hours when two huge tour groups join us. But once they leave, it is peaceful again and we enjoy the long evening light and warm temperatures.

The lazy 8-hour trip up the Rhine takes us past too many castles and towns to keep track of. We pretty much have the whole boat to ourselves except for 1-1/2 noisy hours when two huge tour groups join us. But once they leave, it is peaceful again and we enjoy the long evening light and warm temperatures.

Very steep cultivation of wine. It's mostly white and you don't have to pay much for something good and dry.

Very steep cultivation of wine. It's mostly white and you don't have to pay much for something good and dry.

Two photos of Rothenburg. Chock full of day trippers, this is purported to be the best preserved medieval city in Europe.

Two photos of Rothenburg. Chock full of day trippers, this is purported to be the best preserved medieval city in Europe.

We join the other tourists in taking snapshots of the most photographed street in Europe known for having inspired sets from Disney's Pinocchio   to Harry Potter. Hint to photographers: they're inanimate buildings. You don't need to spend 10 minutes waiting for them to pose while you set up your shot.

We join the other tourists in taking snapshots of the most photographed street in Europe known for having inspired sets from Disney's Pinocchio to Harry Potter. Hint to photographers: they're inanimate buildings. You don't need to spend 10 minutes waiting for them to pose while you set up your shot.

Toy store window in Rothenburg.

Toy store window in Rothenburg.

Berlin

After so much hot weather and temperatures over 100' F, it is a relief to wake up to a cool breeze blowing through our bedroom window and the sun lighting up the room. The previous night we had arrived later than expected after making a stop to see Dresden, then confronting a rush-hour traffic jam approaching Berlin, hooking up with the owner of our apartment rental to drop off our luggage, then back into traffic to return our rental car, negotiating the U-bahn back to the apartment, extensively discussing the city with our host, then out once again grocery shopping for essentials, and making a late-night dinner.

The Berlin Reichstag.

The Berlin Reichstag.

What we see when we finally get to play tourist again is a surprisingly calm and relaxed urban landscape for such a big city; a mix of residential neighborhoods, historic areas, and business centers. 

A section of what's left of the Berlin Wall. Hint: the wall didn't work out so well in the end.

A section of what's left of the Berlin Wall. Hint: the wall didn't work out so well in the end.

With so many memorials to the former Wall and the division between East and West Berlin, it takes some effort to try to fathom what it was like then, especially when there is now a whole generation of Berliners who grew up without the Wall. But despite the fact that Berlin, like all big cities, mostly consists of people going about their lives and living their personal stories, it impresses us as a city of memories: memories of the division of Berlin and Germany, memories of the Holocaust, memories of The World Wars, the decadent 1920s, Kaiser Wilhelm--so much that happened in just a single century with Berlin as the epicenter.

Checkpoint Charlie, now a crowded tourist mecca with a carnival-like atmosphere.

Checkpoint Charlie, now a crowded tourist mecca with a carnival-like atmosphere.

Built over a marsh, whenever there is major construction in Berlin, as in the case of a new U-bahn line, the high water table necessitates the pumping away of water, hence these blue pipes running along the street.

Built over a marsh, whenever there is major construction in Berlin, as in the case of a new U-bahn line, the high water table necessitates the pumping away of water, hence these blue pipes running along the street.

Visit to the Wieskirche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visit to the Wieskirche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Three photos of a side trip we made to Dresden on our way to Berlin.

Three photos of a side trip we made to Dresden on our way to Berlin.